After completing a dissertation on American literature in the Civil Rights era, Maggie Gram taught briefly at Washington University in St. Louis—then jumped ship from academia to become a design researcher and then an interaction designer. Now a design lead and manager at Google, Maggie designs digital tools that protect user privacy. She also teaches design on and off at MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art.
But after six or eight years in the academic humanities, it can be hard to tamp down one’s cultural-critical impulses. So while building her career as a designer, Maggie has also turned her attention toward design itself as a cultural construct, object and subject, writing critically first about the idea of “design thinking” (How did design become a way of thinking?) and then about the history and politics of “design” itself as a discursive object and subject.
Maggie’s writing has appeared in American Literary History, n+1, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other venues. Her book-in-progress, The Invention of Design, is under contract with Basic Books. This talk is about that book project—and about what happens when you leave academic life but can’t leave your academic brain. It hopes to provoke a conversation about the uses of historicism both within and beyond the academy.
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